Burma’s Struggle for Democracy: A Critical Appraisal (DRAFT)


Maung Zarni with Trisha Taneja – TRANSCEND Media Service

Maung Zarni

Maung Zarni

Chapter 3
Reclaiming Activism


This chapter draws upon the author’s direct political engagement in Burma’s pro-change opposition, and on his own research, to reflect critically on the struggle of the last twenty-five years between the ruling military and the opposition movements.

Aung San Suu Kyi is widely acclaimed as the face of Burmese democratic activism, as a dignified and principled exponent of non-violent resistance, and the symbol of the aspirations of the Burmese people for a government, freely and fairly elected, that champions the rights and welfare of its people. Suu Kyi’s iconic status is exemplified by the award of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize—awarded a mere three years after she became politically active.

This chapter questions the simplified heroic narrative commonly associated with Suu Kyi, and portrays a more complex story behind the struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma. Transnational activism centred on Burma has been plagued by disunity among national actors, and has evolved to follow the Western-Policy Lobby Model outlined by de Waal in chapter 2, with Suu Kyi acting as a national link for Western advocacy/lobby organisations. This anointing of Suu Kyi at the apex of the Burmese struggle has allowed Western policy makers to selectively craft a singular narrative about the country that is aligned to their strategic and domestic interests, without ensuring a corresponding positive change in Burmese struggles.

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Burma’s Struggle for Democracy: A critical appraisal


Dr. Maung Zarni, Associate Fellow, the University of Malaya, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founder and director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), and a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, Department of International Development, London School of Economics. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press. He was educated in the US where he lived and worked for 17 years. Visit his website http://www.maungzarni.net.

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